Wildlife TV Programs This Week

One of my favorite ways to view wildlife is through TV programs on my favorite nature channel NatGeoWild (DirecTV 283). There is always something delightfully soothing, fascinating, mysterious, invigorating, or surprising to see–and always much to learn.

In the USA, two special options rendering reality in two very different styles will be broadcast this weekend. They are The Zoo on Animal Planet (channel 282) and Wild Scotland on NatGeoWild (channel 283).

The new episode of The Zoo (link to live streaming of season 1 episodes), a show I have yet to sample about adventures at the Bronx Zoo, is on next Saturday, April 1, at 10pm Eastern and features a desert fox, or fennec, named Charlie. I LOVE fennecs. The tall, pointy ears, the dark eyes, the foxiness, the elegance–truly entertaining canids.

Of course, I love Scotland, too, and until now have not seen a show advertised on NatGeoWild (channel 283) that focuses on Scotland’s natural treasures: Wild Scotland will air starting at 8pm Eastern next Sunday, April 2, in a series of 1-hour-long premiers, each focusing on a different season’s challenges and species in the Scottish wilds. Plus, it’s narrated by Ewan McGregor (at least the UK version is, which seems to focus on the Hebrides)–can’t wait!

Episodes for this series, part of a regular program known as Destination Wild in the U.S., start with “Spring Awakening” at 8pm (Eastern), about this unpredictable season’s effects on life in the Highlands. This new episode is followed by two others at 9pm and 10pm, “Mid Summer’s Night Dream,” and “Into the Woods” (I found no direct links for profiles on these episodes).

Earlier that day are additional, re-run episodes of Destination Wild, including Wild France. I added that to my DVR, also, just for good measure. Wild Alaska was one of the earliest in that line that I recall seeing years ago.

If you missed Big Cat Week on NatGeoWild this year, you missed some great shows set in North and South America including the Amazon jungle and Andes mountains. The majority of shows presented a diverse array of African savannahs, river deltas, deserts, and swamps. I DVR’d most of the shows and watched them later at my leisure. My preferences were the mountain lion, leopard, and cheetah episodes, as well as those involving, you guessed it, African wild dogs, aka African painted dogs.

Incidentally, although big cats are endangered in many places, the social life of lions leaves something to be desired with the males’ lack of protective instinct for younger sibling cubs and the infanticide of marauding adult male lions. Dogs, otters, and even bizarre hyenas are less dysfunctional. For a primer on how great African wild dogs are, see the footnote. *

Sometimes it’s a refreshing change of pace to watch individual animals tough it out–leopards, cheetahs, mountain lions, jaguars, even honey badgers. However, Shark Week (NatGeo) is a ways off, not till late summer, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (previously on USA but this year on FS1) airs each year on Valentine’s Day, and Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet (channel 282) broadcasts as an alternative to the NFL Super Bowl (also early February for you non-sporting breeds). Those ships have sailed.

Generally, Animal Planet focuses more on adventure that may or may not involve animals, with programs such as North Woods Law, Pitbulls & Parolees, Tanked, and Treehouse Masters. I’m less of a fan overall of Animal Planet because I would rather see actual animals, not just people acting like them. There’s no substitute for the real thing.

These are not the only channels for observing wildlife on television, just the most obvious, most reliable, and most popular. Every once in a while, there is a special presentation, a Disney movie, films like March of the Penguins, and others on various channels from movie channels to science to family. Of course, now YouTube and other online venues offer even more opportunities to view animal and wilderness videos of all kinds. Our options continue to expand with streaming media and the mobility of videos being shared across social networks.

But if you’re more of a traditionalist as I tend to be, and you prefer good, old-fashioned TV for most of your visual home entertainment, check out this week’s offerings on NatGeoWild and Animal Planet throughout the week. I like The Incredible Dr. Pol, American Beaver, Otter Town, and anything to do with wild canids like foxes, wolves, jackals, coyotes, and dogs (including Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan shows). Tune in especially on Saturday for The Zoo at 10pm Eastern and for Wild Scotland starting at 8pm Eastern on Sunday. Enjoy!

Wild Scotland Reference

By the way, as I am in the process of presenting my multi-part series on Outlander-oriented tourism in Scotland–having visited the country last year but sadly seen little wildlife during that trip–I’m including below a few resources to learn more about exploring wild Scotland in person. 

For general tour guide sources about wild Scotland, I recommend:

Scotland the Best: Peter Irvine chooses his top 50 Scottish places to eat, stay and play – Daily Record – THE latest edition (book) of Scottish travel bible Scotland the best is out and here, author Peter Irvine selects his top 50 places to eat, stay and play.

Rough Guides – The Rough Guide to Scotland – The new, full-colour Rough Guide to Scotland is the definitive travel guide to this gem of a country. In-depth coverage of its burgeoning food scene, artistic innovations and awe-inspiring wild places

Walk Wild Scotland (walkwild.org) – Wilderness. Adventure. Culture. Relaxation.

Regional Guides and Guides by Type of Place or Activity

To begin to drill down into specifics, a helpful starting point for exploration is the Scottish Natural Heritage nature reserves and parks page. It provides different category links for types of sites and where to find them, including national, regional, and local nature reserves, national, regional, and country parks, national nature reserves and those managed by SNH, as well as other sites.

The following are some select resources I happened to come across while trip planning. This is in no way an exhaustive list; some vast territories are not covered.

In the South

WWT Caerlaverock – Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre near Caerlaverock Castle, managed by Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (wwt.org.uk)

Adjacent to WWT Caerlaverock is the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (snh.gov.uk) – “an internationally important coastal site on the North Solway Coast.” It is a birding hotspot (winter) and habitat for natterjack toads (summer) in the shallow pools on the northern edge of the reserve. “Winter attracts staggering numbers of wildfowl and waders. Oystercatcher, pintail and curlew feed on the mudflats and roost on the merse (local name for saltmarsh).”

St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, Eyemouth, Scottish Borders (a National Trust Scotland site) – “A nature reserve and seabird colony on a dramatic cliff-top known for dolphin and puffin sightings.” – Google maps

Central Scotland & southern Highlands

In Fife, just north of Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth: Welcome to Fife Coast & Countryside Trust and Local Nature Reserves.

Rannoch & Tummel (rannochandtummel.co.uk) – In the Big Trees Country of Perthshire: Loch Rannoch, Schiehallion munro, Dunalastair Estate, Blackwood of Rannoch (Scots Pine, remnants of the Great Forest of Caledonia), Kinloch Rannoch (village), Tummel Bridge and Loch Tummel, Rannoch Moor, Rannoch Station, churches, and more

Argyll & the Isles

Scottish Beaver Trials in Knapdale Forest – “Spot the signs of beaver activity in one of the most stunning parts of Scotland.” For information on the project, see the Scottish Natural Heritage page about it.

Argyll & the Isles (exploreargyll.co.uk) Wildlife and nature reserves page – a brief overview followed by three pages of specific results on wildlife and nature tourism in Argyll & the Isles, including Bute Forest, Islay Sea Adventures, Mull Eagle Watch, and Staffa National Nature Reserve.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park (visitcairngorms.com – official) – Activity search results for “Wildlife Watching” include well-established wildlife tours such as

UK Wildlife Safaris: Cairngorms Highland Wilderness–diverse, elaborate over 7 days, the tour offers sightings of red deer, wild goat, golden eagle, common seal, red squirrel, otter, pine marten, badger, and Capercaillie via treks to the Speyside Wildlife Hide, the Moray Firth, and through Caledonian pine forest–

and Rothiemurchus Safaris and Tours (Aviemore): osprey, badgers, red squirrels, red deer, pine martens. See Rothiemurchus.net for the full range of outdoor activities available, which include wildlife watching and photography, self-guided walks, pony treks, fishing, white water rafting, gorge swimming, hiking, kayaking, biking with bike hire, clay target shooting, quad bike treks, mountain climbing, archery, and special activities for kids.

For more Highland wildlife and bird watching safaris, go to VisitScotland.

Farther North and West

Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (nnr-scotland.org.uk) – Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (lower northwest coast vicinity, Highland): On the hill you may see red deer, pine marten, mountain hares, foxes, voles and stoats.

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide (managed by Forestry Commission of Scotland) along Loch Sunart between Acharacle and Strontian, West Highland – otters, pine martens, a heronry, and, rarely, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles

Islands

Arguably the best place to see puffins is Handa Island. The Islands are generally best for waterfowl sightings year round.

Eilean Ban: The Brightwater Centre (eileanban.org), The Pier, Kyleakin, Isle of Skye island wildlife: “On the island you may see Voles, Pine Marten, Rock and Meadow Pipits, while in the water around, Shags and Cormorants are regularly seen feeding, and Eider Ducks have appeared in large numbers. Porpoises and both Harbour and Grey Seals are visitors, not to mention the resident Otters!

Don’t forget to learn about wildlife and nature in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland!

If you decide to hold off till the weekend, Wild Scotland is sure to be another great way to start exploring the Scottish wilderness. Watch it this Sunday, April 2, at 8pm Eastern on NatGeoWild.

The Zoo‘s latest episode called “Birds and the Bees” features the fennec fox, bee-eater birds, and a leopard; it airs Saturday, April 1, on Animal Planet at 10pm Eastern.


Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of these companies and make this recommendation from personal interest alone.

  • African wild dogs are the most efficient predators in Africa, with a percentage of hunts resulting in kills more than 90% of the time, and arguably the most humane. Rather than slowly suffocating or bleeding their prey, like big cats often do, African wild dogs immediately go for the belly, which induces the numbing effects of shock and results in a quick death. Again, dogs are better than cats–it’s just a fact. But they’re all endangered, and each ecosystem survives in a delicate balance. For a snapshot of other wild animals I enjoy, see Five-Phrase Friday (23): Cool Creatures.

An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 3

In Part 2, we explored the western central and southern sites of Outlander TV series filming, focusing on the Glasgow area and Ayrshire. This time, we head north into the Highlands, starting with Perthshire, also a central region. In an upcoming post, I’ll present our particular trip itinerary for your consideration and discuss existing Outlander-dedicated tours you can book and enjoy in your Scotland travels. To start our journey from the beginning, see An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1.

As for the Outlander sites, this post will take us full circle so to speak from one version of the story’s central plot mechanism—the fictional standing stone circle of Craigh na Dun—to another, with several essential stops in between. We start north of the main cities Glasgow and Edinburgh and take a gradual north-westerly path from there. The climb begins with a tantalizing mystery of the TV show and ends with a point of resonance for Diana Gabaldon’s creation of the books. You may also learn some history along the way.

Dividing a Nation

One thing I noticed in my tourism research was how inconsistently the areas of Scotland are named from one resource to another and over time. To distinguish areas of north central and northern Scotland for this post, and find current, accurate names for them, I finally found a resource that clarifies how Scottish lands are sliced and how they overlap: UndiscoveredScotland.co.uk.

Fully orient yourself to where’s where on their Councils, Regions, and Counties page, which links to breakdowns of those three different types of division. Or, for the simplified tourism approach, see the official Scottish Tourist Board website mentioned previously, VisitScotland.com. Find out more about how the tourism industry, as well as British and Scottish governments, have labeled things; see the first footnote under the heading “Notes on Area Names.” *

In short, it can be confusing, but with quick look-ups, ready resources, and having precise addresses, you’ll find your tailored trip less daunting to plan. If you’re going far less DIY, it shouldn’t matter. I can nearly guarantee you’ll be well taken care of, at least in country. Choice of travel agent or airline in your home country–and now, perhaps, getting home again–is another matter.

From Here on Up

The Highlands, broadly considered, are sort of a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For a discussion of this issue, see my second footnote section under “Notes on Area Names.” **

Whatever names the land acquires, one of its most distinguishing features are its diverse, ubiquitous configurations of rock and stone, both geologic—hills, caves, coast lines, mountains, tors, volcanic plugs—and man made—standing stones, stone circles, cairns, brochs, crofts, stone fences, houses, streets, castles, and so on. Stone, loch, and green together mean “Scotland.”

The “Highlands” Sites:

Outlander Show Filming, Book Story, and Scottish History by Region or County

My heart is in the Highlands, wherever I go” – Robert Burns

Perthshire, Perth & Kinross council area     →      Outlander film setting

From roughly east to west toward the Great Glen, the areas of general attraction in the glen of Rannoch include Schiehallion, Dunalastair Estate, Kinloch Rannoch village, Loch Rannoch, and Rannoch Moor.

Rannoch. → On a line east of Glencoe and Fort William in the Central Highlands, somewhere on the Dunalastair Estate, they “can’t tell you where,” the Outlander TV production erected their set of Diana Gabaldon’s fictional circle of standing stones called Craigh na Dun. Shown in eps 101, 103, 108, 111, 201, and 213, this set of Claire’s time-travel scenes includes its backdrop—the very real Loch Rannoch and surrounding mountains, including Schiehallion to the southeast.

Lying on a National Scenic Area between the Cairngorms National Park to the north and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to the south, Dunalastair Estate sits on 17,000 acres. The village, loch, hills, and moor are accessible to the general public, as are the holiday cottages for booking on estate land. Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall Fraser) once called this filming location her favorite and noted the magic that seemed to meet the crew each time, and she’s not the only one. Source: Travel+Leisure magazine’s article “The Cast and Crew of ‘Outlander’ Reveal Their Favorite Filming Locations.”

The Dunalastair Estate website features comprehensive details for tourists. It covers area clan history, the estate family, farm, village, wildlife, rare plants, hiking, horse riding, railway, and other recreational options, plus links to websites like that of the Rannoch and Tummel Tourism Association. Source: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate

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Rannoch Moor looking west to Glen Coe. Creative Commons image by cosmicherb70, via Buzzfeed.com & Flickr

* * *

Argyll (county), Highland council area      →      Outlander film settings

Glen Coe. This mountain range is in long shots of Scotland. It was all about showcasing Scotland itself. If you’ve seen representative landscape views of Scotland in any form, chances are you’ve seen Glen Coe. One such view has been my blog’s header image in early 2017. The glen is the result of glaciers cutting into extinct volcanoes, creating a broad, sweeping valley of pleasing symmetry from key vantage points.

Glencoe is the name of the village in Lochaber to the west of the picturesque glen, and the two are connected by the umbilicus of the River Coe. Coming from the south, follow the A82 westward from Loch Lomond toward Glencoe Village, Loch Leven, and the Great Glen. There are dedicated viewpoints along the way where you can park and take it all in.

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The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, Season 1, Episode 1, opening shot during Claire’s voice-over. Image by STARZ & Sony Pictures Television, via Outlander-Online.com

* * *

Cairngorms National Park, Highland       →       Outlander film settings

“Cairngorms” rather loosely translated means “pile of blue rocks,” or “blue stone heap.” The Gaelic for this mountain range sounds much better, and Gaelic is often helpfully descriptive. There is also a single mountain called Cairngorm. Covering a vast area of natural beauty, rare wildlife (wildcats, capercaillies, and mountain hares in winter, red squirrels, red deer, and others), scenic vistas, castle ruins, pine forests, lochs, burns, and waterfalls, nature-loving visitors can spend substantial time in the Cairngorms National Park year round and not be disappointed.

If you were traveling from Rannoch, you would enter the park from the south, taking the A9 which starts in Stirling and flows through Inverness all the way to the far northwest Highland ferry port of Scrabster. The River Spey chases the A9 along the western boundary of the Cairngorms, and soon both find the small town of Newtonmore, just north of which is the Highland Folk Museum.

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland. Almost due north of the village of Kinloch Rannoch, this historical outdoor museum recreates 18th-century Highland life every day and aids in Outlander storytelling in a few ways  → in ep101 for the shelter where Murtagh first takes Claire to meet the other Highlanders, the scenes of village folk around the Castle Leoch area in season 1, and during ep105 for rent collections and wool waulking when the ladies sing “Mo Nighean Donn.”

From their website under the auspices of stewards Highlife Highland, “The Highland Folk Museum sits at the east edge of the village of Newtonmore less than two miles from the town of Kingussie. It lies just off the A9 at the west side of the Cairngorms National Park.”

As a preserved 18th-century village, the attraction has a total of 30 time-period furnished buildings, including a 1700s township of six buildings and a section featured as a working 1930s croft. The whole property, fully active up until the 1960s, spans one mile in length and also contains the Shelter, “Am Fasgadh,” housing 10,000 artifacts, plus a research library, conservation lab, offices, meeting rooms, and more.

Source: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/

The address is , Kingussie Road, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire, PH20 1AY. Currently in winter closure, the site will reopen in April 2017. Visit the official website for more pictures and information.

Tulloch Ghru, Rothiemurchus Forest, near Aviemore and Inverdruie, Cairngorms National Park, Highland, is an area of hilly woodlands spreading north of, but not far from, the Highland Folk Museum. → Featured in the opening credits of each episode and in scenes where Claire and the Highlanders travel from Craigh na Dun to Castle Leoch in ep101, “Sassenach,” it is peppered like Rannoch with ancient Caledonian pines along a western stretch of Cairngorms National Park.

Tulloch Ghru may also serve in parts of ep108, “Both Sides Now,” such as the woods where Claire and Willie wait while Jamie and the others meet Horrocks. (Not sure about this; I cannot find my original source for that idea.) But you won’t find it mentioned on standard tourist websites.

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Tulloch Ghru, maybe –> Claire, Jamie & Dougal talk British ambush risk. Image by STARZ & Sony Pictures Television, via Outlander-Online.com

The Outlander filming sweet spot is somewhere between Aviemore and Inverdruie, southeast of both and not far south of the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre. To start the hunt, follow the sleuthing, with information distinguishing place names in the area (Tulloch to the north vs. “Tullochghru” to the south), diligently pursued and shared at Wizzley.com. An old map of the area appears on that site.

Anyway, such pine forests in Scotland, though few compared to their ubiquity in times past, provide similar atmosphere as each other, and wee Tulloch Ghru may not stand out visually to the Outlander tourist. Generally, woodland film locations are notoriously difficult for the mere mortal to pinpoint once the crew cleans up, though some visitors may prevail. Interested in plant succession and vegetation change in the park since the last Ice Age? Knock yourself out at Cairngorms Learning Zone.

Note: Cocknammon Rock, also featured in this portion of ep101, is a fictional rock formation invented by Diana Gabaldon and created by the show with special effects.

The Cairngorms National Park itself boasts several helpful tourist resources at visitcairngorms.com (supported by VisitScotland.com, the official tourist board of Scotland) and cairngorms.co.uk, among other sites. For an outline map of the Rothiemurchus Forest of the filming site, go to the latter website’s Landscape Areas page and select “Rothiemurchus Forest.” Rothiemurchus is also a woodland estate with an island castle. For a beautiful map of the whole park, see the Cairngorms National Park Map.

* * *

Ross and Cromarty      →      Outlander book and historical settings

To start farther north and work your way southward back to Inverness for the train to Edinburgh or Glasgow and a flight back home, head for Ross & Cromarty. There you’ll encounter the real Mackenzie lands and their seat of power, Castle Leod. 

Castle Leod, near Strathpeffer–Easter Ross or “in the east of Ross-shire” (county of Ross) or in the regional district of Ross & Cromarty, i.e., something to do with “Ross”–seat of Clan Mackenzie.  →  Inspiration for Castle Leoch in the book. The name from the book was then continued by the show. However, shared in Part 1 of my Outlander tourism series, the historical castle itself is played by Doune Castle in Stirling. Castle Leod is a private estate accessed only by prior permission. However, it has been a stop on at least one Outlander tour out of Inverness.

For pictures and official information, see the gallery page at Castleleod.org.uk. This well-preserved Highland castle, billed as one of the most picturesque and romantic by its stewards, can be booked for special events including weddings. The Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the UK was very helpful with information about access and tours involving Castle Leod. The associated Clan Mackenzie Routes also offers tour package options.

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Castle Leod. Image credit: Clan Mackenzie Society at clanmackenziesociety.co.uk/castles

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Castle Leod, “east view.” Image by coltarbt at Tripadvisor.com

Castle Leod will have select open summer days in 2017 in May, June, July, and August, and the grounds also open to the public on August 12th for the Strathpeffer Highland Games, held annually.

In a valley alongside the Peffery Burn, the castle property is NNE of Strathpeffer off the A834, and the closest town immediately northeast is Auchterneed. Bottacks is also nearby. The address of Castle Leod is .

Loch Garve, west of Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Easter Ross → The loch mentioned as the home of the water kelpie (water horse; no, not the same species as Nessie) in the fireside tale Rupert tells before the rent party is attacked by members of Clan Grant in ep 108, “Both Sides Now.”

My online search for “Loch Garve” one day brought up the legend of the water kelpie; the story is indeed a long-held Scottish fixture.

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Falls of Rogie. Image by EvaMarina2015 at Tripadvisor.com

Between Loch Garve and Castle Leod are the Falls of Rogie, a series of sought-after waterfalls on the Black Water River, where salmon can be seen jumping the “ladder” and where you can walk across the river on a suspended bridge. Also within this area is the Strathpeffer Heritage Village and Victorian spa resort.

Down from the Northwest, we reach the Great Glen and Scotland’s most famous loch.

* * *

Inverness-shire    →     Outlander book, film, historical, and inspirational settings

Inverness is an interesting case for its lack of interest, perhaps. At least that’s what my friend who recommended I read Outlander said about their Outlander tour with Inverness Tours. I’m not sure if it was the pedestrian passerby on the highway shouting up to their double-decker tour bus “Inverness is sh*te!” that influenced her thoughts on this, but she basically told me there isn’t much besides the river views worth seeing in Inverness itself.

To say Inverness has little tourist value is not strictly true, but as a fellow Outlander fan with other priorities, I decided to follow my friend’s lead on this one. As a result, my personal experience of Inverness is limited to navigating traffic, scenes of the River Ness (mainly in pouring rain) and Moray Firth, parking beneath the Inverness Castle hilltop, and eating at two fine city restaurants.

Known as the capital of the Highlands, there are indeed attractions worth visiting in the city. I’ll tell you about a less beaten path we took for ourselves, along with other charms Inverness afforded us, when I share our full itinerary in a future post. Incidentally, my first pick of an Outlander tour was through Inverness Tours, but they were booked for our time frame when I finally made my decision, so plan many, many months ahead! We took instead Slainte Scotland‘s Firth of Forth and Fife area Outlander day tour, which was wonderful.

When you focus on the book and TV show, it is equally true that nothing in particular makes Inverness an Outlander tourism city. Rather, its proximity to sites of story interest is what really recommends it. You may decide it’s a nice central location for lodging. Below are some of those story-related sites around Inverness that complement those in Ross & Cromarty.

Loch Ness (and Urquhart Castle), south of Inverness, connected by the River Ness, extends on a roughly north-south line for more than 20 miles. Featured in the book but not in the STARZ series, Gabaldon uses Loch Ness to bolster the mysterious, supernatural element of encountering a mythic beast, presumably either “Nessie” or one of her ancestors, collectively known as the Loch Ness Monster.

North of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle and west of Inverness is the town of Beauly, seat of the Fraser clan of Lovat, kin of our story’s hero Jamie Fraser. A distinctive treasure awaits in the heart of town.

Beauly Priory, a truly “beau lieu” (French) or “beautiful place,” presents its ruined self in full splendor and grace. The names Fraser and Mackenzie appear frequently on the tombstones within and around the priory.    In the book, this holy place is where Claire meets Maisri, the seer who works for Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, infamously known as “the Old Fox.” Both the clan chief and his wise woman appear in ep208, “The Fox’s Lair.”

Technically not in Inverness-shire but also not far from Inverness to the west, Beauly Priory is free to enter and open 1 April – 30 September. Check for closures at all Historic Environment Scotland sites: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/. The address is .

After Beauly Priory’s enchantment (all above images by C. L. Tangenberg), last and perhaps best are two very important sites just a short trip east of Inverness.

Culloden Battlefield, aka Culloden Moor, Inverness-shire.  →  “The Outlander action is all leading up to the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. More than 1,200 men were killed in the defeat of the Jacobite clans.” Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14. This final battle, while not depicted in the book, will be portrayed in the STARZ show during series 3, which is based on the third book Voyager. Culloden visitor centre stewards, battle and Jacobite scholars, descendants of Scotch soldiers and their families, British historians, Outlander fans, Outlander STARZ cast and crew, and Scots citizens–in short, many, many people no doubt all eagerly anticipate this unique project coming to fruition.

I know it will be unforgettable, and I hope it will bring even more people to this historic site that has long been at the center of Scottish cultural identity and its dramatic transformation.

The most prominent inclusion of Jacobite Rising history in the Outlander series comes in the form of weaving its facts throughout the story. To her fans, Diana Gabaldon’s research prowess is legendary, and the show has followed her lead with excellent historical accuracy and detail, in everything from herbs to weapons to period architecture to literal embroidery on costumes (with a few intentional nods to the 1940s in Claire’s 1740s French dresses) and furnishings.

Plot elements such as an inside look at the rebel cause in series 1, discussions and decisions by Clans Mackenzie and Fraser in both series about political loyalties, mention and depiction of the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk, and Claire and Frank’s talk of Jacobite history both on and off the battlefield in the 1940s all merge into that complex tapestry.

In 1743, smiling after Claire’s joke, Jamie casually mentions the Mackenzie rent party’s approach to Culloden Moor. Triggered by this, Claire suddenly recalls her sad visit there with Frank, circa 1945. “What of these Mackenzie men? How many [would] die on that bloody moor?” Having begun to bond with them over the past few weeks, she now fears for their lives, with a growing sense of helplessness.

The must-see visitor centre combines access to the field with a state-of-the-art, immersion museum experience, complete with dozens upon dozens of primary accounts conveyed in both textual and audio commentary and a four-wall motion picture re-enactment of the battle itself. The museum is designed for the visitor to receive and absorb a robust before, during, and after depiction of Scotland’s last war for freedom, before stepping outside for the most fundamental evidence of its high costs.

Inside, you learn about the Jacobite Rising of 1745 from its inception, with dual-corridor pathways providing both the government and Jacobite perspectives leading up to the war, along with intricate Battle of Culloden statistical and social details, and a comprehensive portrayal of the prolonged aftermath. This is one of the best places to learn a substantial amount about Bonnie Prince Charlie in particular. The centre has also taken pains to ensure Gaelic language representation throughout the museum and on field kiosks.

A dark hallway allows you to hear what each side had to say about the failed Night March before the battle. After viewing the graphic re-enactment film complete with sound effects (think 3D Saving Private Ryan cinematography), don’t miss the excellent aerial-view digital model of troop movements with audio narration. The same room displays artifacts that were found on the battlefield and examples of swords, pistols, rifles, dirks, mortars, and cannons used in the fight.

Next, you can walk the moor, view the memorial cairn, grave stones, flags, and other battlefield features, and better imagine what it must really have been like. Pay your respects at the Clan Fraser memorial stone, which resides directly opposite the memorial cairn, among a series of clan memorial stones. More often than not, many of these will be graced with flowers and other tokens of remembrance.

The land is relatively flat but expansive, so budget your time for the trek. Go early if you intend to add another attraction on the same day, but I recommend light, short, and upbeat follow-up–something purely entertaining and relaxing or mostly physical, such as a beach picnic, river cruise, whisky tasting, tea time, train ride, horseback ride, or bagpipe show.

Actually, you might want to make a firm plan for the whisky. The Culloden historical experience, though fascinating and engaging, is a top-notch example of the ultimate sobering agent. However, despite one myth, birds do indeed sing on the moor–I made a point of listening for them after reading that somewhere. Our visit also featured two beautiful horses grazing the moor and watching over the fallen.

In getting there, keep in mind that several places in the area bear the name “Culloden”: the town of Culloden, Culloden Moor, and Culloden Battlefield, which is technically on Drumossie Moor, as well as the Culloden Inn. The town named Culloden is a bit removed to the northwest, and the namesake moor is immediately northeast of the battlefield. Culloden Inn restaurant is very close to the visitor centre, between Drumossie and Culloden Moors.

Murtagh mentions Kildrummie Moss in ep212, “The Hail Mary,” as well. This is actually farther northeast in Nairn-shire, closer to Nairn, where the British General Cumberland’s camp celebrated his birthday on the eve of their march to Culloden.

Regardless of your degree of interest in Outlander, war, or formal museums, no first visit to Scotland would be complete without at least half a day at Culloden. Be sure to include it.

Address: Culloden Battlefield visitor centre, Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland IV2 5EU. Tel: 0844 493 2159. Visitor Centre, Restaurant, Shop: open 1 Sept – 31 Oct, daily 9 – 5.30. Battlefield open daily, all year. Price: Adult £11.00. Hire of battlefield tour PDA is included in admission price. NTS members in free.

Clava Cairns, Inverness-shire, is a set of circular piles of stones (chambered and kerb cairns), and standing stone circles (monoliths) around those cairns, along the River Nairn, near Inverness. Perhaps sharing features of the stone circle Gabaldon pictured as Craigh na Dun for her story, “the 3 cairns were burial sites about 4,000 years ago, although the remains have long since been removed. Standing stones surround the cairns, but they haven’t seen any mysterious disappearances or reappearances lately—that we know of, anyway.” Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5

As part of her answer to the question “Are all the locations used in the books real?”, Diana notes in her website’s FAQs section that she had not been to Scotland when she wrote Outlander but would not be surprised if a place like the one she describes for Craigh na Dun actually existed. She found the standing stones at Castlerigg, Lake District, England, to be “very like” her imagined site once she finally did travel to Britain.

She mentions Clava Cairns and Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill as possibly being similar, but she states she had not been to Tomnahurich, which is supposed to be a “fairy’s hill.” It was not clear whether she had visited Clava Cairns by the time of her answer’s posting on that particular page, but I am fairly certain she has been there since, and I know she has visited Culloden as well.

Source: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#locations

Remember: Numerous examples of cairns, standing stones, stone circles, brochs, volcanic plugs, glacier-carved valleys, caves, and other spectacular rock formations define the landscape of Scotland’s mainland and islands. You’re likely to find one example to be as interesting as the next. This one is special in part for its very close proximity to Culloden Moor and its being part of Inverness-shire.

Just across the River Nairn to the southeast of Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre, the address of Balnuaran of Clava, or the Clava Cairns, is . It is free and open to the public.

* * *

As you have seen through descriptive detail and vivid images, Outlander highlights abound in the Highlands as much as in central and southern Scotland. As I hope you have also seen, Scotland deserves exploring in its own right. Its beauty, culture, history, and adventure are matched by impressive hospitality.

Now that I have oriented you–in part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series–to the places throughout the land of Scots that can fascinate and delight the Outlander tourist, part 4 will present my specific model for putting it all together. I’ll show you how I approached planning our trip as a do-it-yourself traveler, our full bespoke (that is, “custom-made” for you non-UK folks) itinerary, and how we adjusted it along the way. I’ll also provide further guidance about dedicated Outlander tour options, more filming locations and book story sites, as well as general travel tips and recommended resources.

Footnotes and a list of sources mentioned in this post can be found in the sections below. While I’m on that subject, remember: The information presented in these posts is not exhaustive, errors are possible, and facts change, so be sure to do your own checking when you’re ready to set a Scottish excursion in stone.

I am delighted that you’ve followed me on the journey thus far. Return next time, when I’ll help with some tough choices and prepare you to book transport and more for that Scotland trip you’ve been dreaming about. . . .

Tìoraidh an-dràsta! (CHEER-ee ehn DRAH-steh) Ta-ta for now!


Notes on Area Names

* Go to Council Areas Since 1996 for a numbered map and linked list of all 30 council areas, such as Clackmannanshire, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, and Perth and Kinross. The island chains of Orkney and Shetland are listed and linked separately as not shown on the map. Subdivisions into registration counties, used for land registration in Scotland, have persisted since the 1990s.

Regional divisions are a little more complicated and involve subdivision into districts between 1975 and 1996. For that fascinating history, see Regions and Districts of Scotland from 1975 to 1996, the names of which are relevant for the tourist mainly because areas are often still described in these terms.

Finally, counties go back even farther in time and were replaced by the two-tier region-district system. Scottish Counties from 1890 to 1975, like much of Scottish history, retain their footprint on the land.

Beyond these official, politico-historical categories, there appears to be a common understanding among UK and Scottish tourist service organizations and tour guidebook publishers as to which labels are most helpful to tourists. VisitScotland.com, Fodors, DK, Scotland.com, and Scotland.org are among those that blend variations of regions, council areas, and descriptive phrasing to focus tourists on optimal zones for their adventures. Examples include “Aberdeen and Grampian,” “Hebrides” (islands), and “Glasgow and the Clyde Valley.”

** The Highlands, broadly considered, are perhaps a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For one, this northerly expanse hardly has a monopoly on height and also seems to be synonymous with “the North.” Even the Lowlands are bordered to the south by “Southern Uplands” (Dumfries & Galloway area), and Europe and other continents boast far larger mountains.

Second, culturally and politically, the Highlands were long considered a region of backwardness, even barbarity, by their southern neighbors the English, and sometimes by Lowland or city Scots. The region could in that way be thought of as anything north, island or inland, a certain distance from Edinburgh.

Third, the geological Highland Boundary Fault line has set in stone (sorry) that once vague sense of division, officially distinguishing “up there” from “down here.” This fault zone runs from the isle of Arran and Helensburgh on the west coast, west-northwest of Glasgow, through Loch Lomond and Crieff to the northeast, parallel to the east coast on the North Sea, terminating immediately north of Stonehaven, at Garron Point, just south of Aberdeen. Visual learners, consult the map. 😉

As the line climbs to the northeast, it traverses Stirlingshire, Perthshire, and Angus, southeast of the Cairngorms. To see the topography and current place names, visit Gazetteer for Scotland and zoom out on the map. For geology lovers, here’s George Barrow’s sketch map from 1912.

Scottish Natural Heritage further explores “the five distinct foundation blocks which make up Scotland” geology; examples are Southern Uplands, Northwest sea-board, and Northern Highlands.


Key Sources (in order of presentation in this post)

Highland Boundary Fault information was drawn from Wikipedia and Gazetteer for Scotland.

Gazetteer: http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst7728.html

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Boundary_Fault

Travel+Leisure magazine’s article about Outlander cast/crew’s favorite filming locations: http://www.travelandleisure.com/culture-design/tv-movies/outlander-cast-and-crew-favorite-locations

Dunalastair Estate: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate

VisitCairngorms.com: http://visitcairngorms.com/

Highland Folk Museum: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/

About Tulloch Ghru at Wizzley.com: STARZ Outlander Scottish Filming Locations

Castle Leod: Castleleod.org.uk

WelcometoScotland.com provided information about Loch Garve and the Falls of Rogie in Ross & Cromarty:

Loch Garve: http://www.welcometoscotland.com/things-to-do/activities/fishing/north-highland/loch-garve

Falls of Rogie: http://www.welcometoscotland.com/things-to-do/attractions/nature-reserves/north-highland/rogie-falls

Learn more about Historic Environment Scotland sites including Beauly Priory: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/.

TravelChannel.com‘s Outlander sites photo gallery

Culloden Battlefield: Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14.

Clava Cairns: Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5

Diana Gabaldon’s website FAQs: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#locations

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Live Event Review: Diana Gabaldon Skype Session

Barring some spotty transmission of sound, tonight’s Skype session with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon was a treat–and free! Connecting from her Santa Fe, NM, getaway house (lives in Scottsdale, AZ) to our own Lake High School Performing Arts Hall in Uniontown, Ohio, the Goddess of Jamie and Claire Fraser chatted to upwards of 200 people.

To start the presentation, Diana skipped the most common questions avid fans know the answers to, such as how she started writing the first book. Instead, she shared highlights about book 9’s progress (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone–finish date still unknown), her writing, research, and editing processes, her three main types of characters (“mushrooms, onions, and hard nuts”–see Part 2 of her reference book The Outlandish Companion for full details), and impressions from consulting on the STARZ TV show adaptation.

In her explanation of character types, she used the case of Mr. Willoughby in Voyager to illustrate how a character springs up like a mushroom. Jamie and Claire are onion characters, with layers that keep revealing more depth. Then, some characters she is “stuck with,” hard nuts such as history’s George Washington, as she writes her current book during the American Revolutionary War, and Brianna Randall, Claire and Jamie’s daughter who had to be born for the long-haul story to work.

Diana has to get to know such characters gradually as they reveal themselves to her. She also noted that she doesn’t “kill” characters; they just die and she, too, finds those events “distressing.” She depicts her role as more of a conduit or vessel through which her stories create themselves. While it is not a passive, or by any means easy, process, she works intuitively and must remain receptive. She uses the senses to pose questions that her imagination then helps her answer.

True to her science background, (former) Professor Gabaldon described her writing in terms of natural processes. She revealed how her scenes start from “kernels” (a vivid image, a line of dialogue, a certain ambiance, a physical object) and proceed by an organic process that she compared to both “growing crystals in the basement” and “a slow game of Tetris.” She “fiddles” until the pieces fit together just right.

Perhaps unusual for a novelist, Diana doesn’t write in a straight line or plan her books in advance; she works wherever the images come from and cobbles or, as some have said, “quilts” scenes together. From the beginning of her book making, she has combined the research and writing processes, toggling back and forth to learn more and make corrections as needed. Her research prowess has become legendary among fans. She also shared how each book ultimately forms a geometric shape. Dragonfly in Amber is like a barbell, anchored by a framing story on both ends, and Outlander has a series of three pyramids or triangles where tensions rise and fall.

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Diana Gabaldon, San Diego Comicon 2015

During the Q&A, I was blessed enough to be able to ask Diana a direct question about how the show is adapting the Jamie-Claire relationship. I talked to HERSELF face to face sort of! Whoa. Happy Birthday (week) to me indeed. She agreed with my view that the core bond of these central characters needs some attention and further development on screen, and she indicated the producers think so, too. Diana assured us that the first six episodes she has seen of season 3 are “great,” which brought cheers from several attendees including me.

Just turned 65 last week, Diana Gabaldon is an endearing blend of erudite, friendly, and oddball. This was my second experience of a live Diana Gabaldon video session. She’s very generous and engaged with her fans, a wonderful writer and natural speaker.

Our hosts ran a solid event, the lights and audience mics worked well, and, though we were dram-dry, there was ample, delicious homemade Scottish shortbread laid out near the exit. Mmm . . . buttery, flaky goodness.

In sum, read these awesome Outlander books, people, and if you can, catch a video chat session with Herself. (Preaching to the choir?) The STARZ show really is pretty great, and season 3’s coming up. Even more impressive, though, the books are an endless fount of riches with an essence that even the very talented team of show producers and writers is hard pressed to capture in a visual medium. Books and TV are distinctly different species of animal, but in the case of this timeless, time-driven story, each is fierce and beautiful in its own way, with something for just about everyone.

Sláinte mhath from this balmy winter’s night in northeast Ohio’s Outlander fan land.

The event was hosted by the Stark County District Library, sponsored by Lake Community Friends of the Library, and buoyed by Diana’s two signed book copies for two lucky trivia game winners (not me which was a-okay).

The Labor of Learning to Set Limits

Oh, Outlander‘s finale was grand indeed, but it was so . . . final. I thought I would follow it with at least one thorough blog response, but it proved too overwhelming to face fully, and the sorrow of finality echoed forward. Besides these, another emotional factor had already begun to influence my viewing prior to the last episode of the season–increasing disappointment with the essence of how Starz has adapted the central story relationship of Jamie and Claire. All together, these zapped my motivation even to start sorting.

My disappointment helped me realize that the other thing I needed to do was take a break from “obsessenaching,” which, for the uninitiated means fanatically obsessing like, with, or about Sassenach*, aka Claire Fraser/Caitriona Balfe/Jamie Fraser/Sam Heughan and the whole Outlander lot. I could see my life was straying farther and farther from any semblance of balance. I was having a series of dreams invaded by actor Sam Heughan.

Now, the only reason I feel comfortable enough to admit this, despite finding it rather embarrassing, is that my obsession has made me privy to the obvious fact that many, many other fans’ obsessions with Sam (as must be the case with most handsome stars of the large and small screens) are far more serious and crippling to those people. I am happily married after all and do not hang my self-esteem on whether or not a celebrity re-tweets or responds to my comment. Undoubtedly, dignity and cool would fail me were I actually to meet said celebrity, but never mind.

Although, like many women of retirement age–of which I am not yet technically one for decades to come (hopefully)–I have more “free” time than most people, I have yet to earn the privilege of actual retirement. Based on where I have indulged my pleasures, I’ve come to see: It is this privilege that allows so many Outlander fans of 20+ or 2 years’ duration to indulge their fanaticism.

In my compromised youth, I still recognize the imperative of making life count for something. But without religion, robust health, paid profession, or penchant for routine, I figure some kind of inner drive needs to take the role of holding oblivion at bay for an independent-minded yet provided-for married woman approaching middle age without children. I believe one can really save only herself.

I did take a break of sorts. I put away my Outlander images collection. I stopped re-watching season 2 episodes. I stopped using Twitter altogether, let alone allowing notifications of Sam’s and Caitriona’s latest tweets. I was helped in this by the need to reduce the use of my phone while it showed signs of dying.

But with a new phone came renewed vigor and curiosity about technological capacities, i.e., gadget toys, and soon, I was right back in it. I justified this by the notion that I wouldn’t want to be out of the loop right before our big trip to Scotland. Still to happen, that trip in itself is a direct outgrowth of my Outlander obsession. I have no small hope of bumping into the cast and crew during season 3 filming this fall. I continue to “interact,” i.e., tweet, with the likes of the show’s consultants, producers and other reps. I receive regular notifications of tweets from slightly more than a few of them.

A married couple who are friends of mine just returned from their own Scotland trip, and I made sure to ask them all about it. I have scoured the travel guides, in print and online, compiled details on the sights selected for our itinerary, and delegated GPS setup to the hubby. We’ve bought street maps, new clothes, new shoes, RFID-blocking wallets, international driver’s licenses, travel insurance, theater tickets, steam train tickets, sightseeing passes, a detachable Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, and a new rain coat for me. I downloaded 30 some apps for use before and during the trip, including the UK Highway Code, a bus tracker, weather apps, general news and sightseeing apps, one for each hotel and other vendor we’re using, and Scotland tourism apps. I’ve been planning our trip since May, and there are a slew of tasks still on our list, but it’s finally almost here.

I am excited, to be sure, but also worried that I won’t have the physical strength and energy to tackle even half of the itinerary I’ve tentatively planned for us. I tried to be realistic and arrange alternatives for things to do each day, but at least one day will be a real doozy with a full-day Outlander tour followed by an evening play, and we’re going largely DIY with all this, including renting a car for most of the trip. I also worry that my poor track record with packing sensibly will plague this voyage, too.

Still, I’ve never prepared so well, for so long, and so . . . obsessively for travel as I have for travel to and around Scotland. The excursion will be the single longest vacation my husband and I have ever taken. We’ll likely get through it somehow, but I do hope the experience proves to be worth all the time, money, and work invested in it. Who knows when the chance will come again?

The good news for balance is that I continue to think about it and make efforts at routine productivity. I still tutor weekly, and I’m still writing, in spite of my unplanned hiatus from this blog of late. I’ve been working on a novel since the July Camp NaNo (see my previous post about Packing for Camp), and now that fall approaches, I anticipate pursuing it through November, the official National Novel Writing Month I’ve participated in for the past five years.

[Note on the future of this blog: I’ve refrained from going into details about it here, or doing much posting at all, for fear of disrupting my momentum. But I must admit that it doesn’t take much to do that, and more often than not, blogging about my writing projects has injected new life into them rather than shut them down. So, I guess, besides tales from the trip, I can feel confident in having more to write about at Philosofishal going forward.]

There are other positive signs of balance to acknowledge as well. I have carried the bulk of responsibility for planning our Scotland trip over time, but I haven’t neglected all household management in the mix. I’m in the process of reassessing my autoimmune conditions treatment plan, I’ve begun a new financial investment project for us, and I’ve started walking regularly, mostly for the trip but also to combat high triglycerides, excessive computer sitting, and chronic pain. More goals are also brewing.

Perhaps I’ve been more balanced and productive than I give myself credit for. My limitations have not been as limiting as I believed. It’s just that some health challenges have a special, enduring talent for disappointing long-held expectations. So it has been for me, and so follows the need to keep adjusting those expectations, embrace joy where I can, and continue to set reasonable limits, especially on my propensity to obsess.

Setting limits for oneself is about awareness, love, and the will both to refrain and to reach for better. The good that comes from setting good limits can shatter perceived limitations. What once seemed impossible becomes not only possible but proven. Making wise limit setting a habit then means acknowledging that proof and using it to fuel future action.

Know_Your_Limitations_Then_Defy

Easier said than done.

To make it doable, I think I’ll work to visualize myself going through something like a par course or speed dating session with my various tasks and projects. (Picturing actual juggling just intimidates me.) No one can go, go, go forever; we all need rest after running the course. For me, though, the emphasis is different because chronic health issues make restfulness from sleep a fantasy and daily rest rather void. For me, maintaining and strengthening balance largely means remembering to change the status quo: to get up, move from one foot to the other, keep moving, take a brief rest, and repeat the cycle.

Learning to prioritize and set limits on the consumption of time, while it imposes its own limits, is my greatest challenge and experiment.


  • For more about the term “sassenach,” see:

Outlander | Speak Outlander Lesson 1: Sassenach (video featuring Sam Heughan, lead actor, and Adhamh O Broin, Gaelic Consultant for the show) | STARZ (2013)

Dictionary.com definition of “sassenach”

“Scots Word of the Season: Sassenach” by Maggie Scott | The Bottle Imp (date not specified)

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Review: Sandringham in Outlander STARZ – Beyond Adaptation

Previewed in my post Five-Phrase Friday (37): No “Callow” Craft, this review takes an in-depth look at the final scene of Episode 202, “Not in Scotland Anymore,” in the second series of Outlander STARZ, based on Diana Gabaldon’s second Outlander book Dragonfly in Amber. It is an episode that manages to capture practically everything our heroes grapple with for the rest of the first half of the season. Spoilers imminent.

Paris, 1744. Escape, recovery, new purpose, new digs. Specters of a horrid past in Scotland and its bloody future. Mysticism and superstition in France as in the Scottish Highlands. Duels and fighting practiced, threatened, and restrained. War and religion married in royal ambition. Wine and money mixing with political lies and secret agendas.

Sex, sex, and more sex in anticipation, pursuit, dark corners, and gossip. The irony of an extremely sexy early marriage in Scotland for Claire and Jamie Fraser juxtaposed against their sex-deprived Paris in the aftermath of Jamie’s severe psycho-sexual trauma–at the hands of a real psycho. Old flames re-surfacing. A lowest-cut, billowing blood-red dress. A constipated King Louis XV and his nipple-pierced mistress. A new aristocratic friend forged through sexual misunderstanding.

And finally, an utter change of tone–in the forms of a truly nauseating reunion and a devastating revelation–occurs amidst inner and outer fires and explosions.

Overview

This final scene featuring the Duke of Sandringham’s reappearance begins about seven minutes from episode’s end. For that duration, British actor Simon Callow commands both light and darkness with the aplomb his fans have come to expect and relish.

In this single performance, Callow encapsulates the intriguing essence of the character he and the show’s writers have adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series. Sandringham delivers the final blow to Claire that brings her full circle back to Jamie’s nightmare at the episode’s opening:

Sexual sadist and pervert (Gabaldon’s description) “Black Jack Randall is dead” but “alive in [Jamie’s] head” at the start, and by the end, between them, only Claire learns that Randall is in fact very much alive.

And who should deliver the news? Not even Sandringham, but his secretary Alexander Randall, diminutive, sickly younger brother to the infamously brutish captain. Sandringham’s superior skill in verbal dueling with Claire takes center stage until Alex’s arrival, which, unaided by Sandringham’s intent, perpetrates the final stab for him.

The journey from Murtagh’s spotting of the Duke in the room at Versailles to that painful revelatory moment is intricately layered, extremely tense, and fascinating to watch.

Every single thing the Duke of Sandringham says to Claire and Jamie in this scene represents a provoking, passive-aggressive lunge at them even as he attempts to weasel himself into the position of pitiable victim. His Grace is a walking, talking contradiction, playing his opposing motives, impulses, and meanings off each other to perfection.

Gentlemanly pleasantries interlace with dark, survivalist intentions, and pretenses of buffoonery with calculated and carefully selected barbs. Although not neatly archetypal, Sandringham proves to be the ultimate gentleman jester who only lightly masks his malevolent master mind. The Duke by turns hints at and blatantly flashes his many sides, remaining unnervingly difficult to parse.

Both the more direct, baritoned Sandringham, in conversation with Claire alone, and the falsely polite tenor one, in the presence of Jamie, communicate things that are observable as well as implied or waiting to be revealed.

Beat by Beat: The Lines–and Spaces in Between

A breakdown of character interactions and of the Duke of Sandringham’s comments to Claire and Jamie in this one scene alone makes plain the existence of these layers. Only in the context of known back story, established in the latter half of season one, can the nature of the immediate Fraser-Sandringham conflict and its significance be fully appreciated.

I break the scene down roughly into beats. A beat in story performance can be thought of as “a bubble of action, of dialogue, of thought, or of mood” (source) that represents a shift within a scene.

This final scene makes excellent use of sound and silence (another kind of beat) to convey emotion and drama. Note that the screenwriters may think of these divisions differently; this is my interpretation, with beats labeled by purpose or nature of shift.

Beat 1: Disaster Averted. To open the scene, Jamie thwarts Murtagh’s attempt to exact revenge for the Duke’s treachery, which Black Jack Randall had revealed to Jamie at Wentworth Prison when he burned the intercepted petition of complaint against himself.

The Frasers had entrusted the document to Sandringham for conveyance to London’s Court of Sessions, hoping the accusations of gross sexual impropriety and violence committed by Randall against Claire would countermand Randall’s false accusation of murder against Jamie.

Beat 2: Overture of Good Will. Turning around, a visibly uncomfortable Jamie, shoulders elevated, receives the Duke’s greeting:

“Jamie, dear boy, upon my word. I’m delighted to see you looking so healthy.” The last two words stretch in special emphasis.

While not necessarily insincere, this sentiment, finishing with a broad smile and a glint in the Duke’s eye, could imply he must have some degree of knowledge about what Jamie suffered in the prison dungeon with Randall. Jamie may wonder about this while recalling that time when he was definitely not so healthy. Coming from a known associate of Randall’s and a proven betrayer to Jamie and Claire, reference to Jamie’s health undoubtedly makes him feel ill, but Claire soon catches up, which gives him a moment to recover.

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So touched by your concern . . .

Whatever secrets Sandringham may be privy to, the opening comment need be about nothing more than the fact that Jamie recently had been on the verge of death at the hangman’s noose, a matter of public knowledge. He was caught by redcoats in Scotland, tried for murder (Randall had, according to one witness, shot his own sergeant dead before pinning it on Jamie), convicted, and sentenced within a few days while Murtagh and Claire searched the Highlands countryside for him.

The pardon for which Sandringham’s assistance was supposed to pave the way not only did not come in time but was prevented altogether when Randall wrested from Sandringham’s hands their petition document.

More than our shared knowledge of Jamie’s traumatic past, it is the uncertainty in the audience about what exactly Sandringham knows of this not-so-distant history that heightens the suspense and makes his remark to Jamie about his health so unsettling.

Beat 3: Full Reunion. Before Jamie has a chance to respond, the Duke has spotted Claire and begins addressing her with a higher pitch, volume, and degree of intensity. Again in a stretched cadence, he emphasizes her name. “Mrs. Fraser, what a joyful reunion!” he says while reaching slowly for her hands in greeting. Frowning, she withdraws them and notes coldly that she wishes she could share his appraisal of the situation.

Beat 4: Deeply Cut. “You cut me to the quick!” the Duke reacts, straightening in mock offense.

Beat 5: The Wriggling Begins. Then, relaxing, he concedes, “Well, I suppose I deserve it. Let me assure you, I had every intention of delivering that petition of complaint to the Court of Sessions, as I had pledged to do. It was that damned Randall! The brute insisted I give it to him, instead. I had no choice, whatsoever. Will you ever forgive me?”

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Sure, and I’m Queen of France.

As the Duke professes coercion by Randall, Jamie has joined Claire’s side and gives him a sidelong look of severe doubt. Unflappable as always, ironically, it is Sandringham whose daggers most penetrate, though he says he’s been “cut.”

Beat 6: “Forgiveness.” Considering the Duke’s apology, Jamie then looks at Claire and Murtagh, who is pacing like a caged animal behind them, before he exhales and declares bygones: “What’s done is done.” Jamie knows the importance of smoothing things over with the influential aristocrat (an invented character rather than a historical one).

Sandringham replies, “How true. What’s passed is passed.” The opening and closing of the line drag out here.

Beat 7: Catching Up. He immediately asks, “What are you both doing here in France?”

Such a casual question under most circumstances, again, this one is loaded. As if he didn’t know Britain is no longer safe for them. As if they could have gone anywhere else after fleeing Britain. As if he didn’t know that simply by asking such a question, he is again putting them in an uncomfortable position. Whatever else he may know, the Duke must know that their going to France was no idle decision, as his impertinent question implies.

When Claire responds by explaining Jamie’s been employed by his cousin Jared, she has interjected for Jamie, whose face becomes clouded with consternation, alarmed at the Duke’s question and likely wondering what answer to make.

Beat 8: Capitalizing. Sandringham wastes no time in snapping up the opportunity to buy them off. “The wine merchant? What a serendipitous surprise. Tomorrow I go back to England, but I shall return shortly, and when I do, I should be very interested to sample some of that rare Belle Rouge port I understand he’s stocking. I must have a case.”

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surprised serendipity

How surprising he truly finds their new status is anyone’s guess, but we’re fairly certain serendipity is not involved. He has fabricated it to meet the demands of the moment.

“How much?” Jamie asks, drawing Claire’s incredulous face to him.

“I’d be willing to pay twenty percent over the asking price,” Sandringham offers.

“Sold,” Jamie says with a brief smile while Claire looks indignant on his behalf.

Beat 9: Apology Not Accepted. After Murtagh surmises the Duke’s purchase method (credit) as a way of implying payment may never come, Claire suggests that Jamie and Murtagh go and have a drink with “our new friend, the Minister of Finance,” and on this last phrase she speaks directly to the Duke, as if to pre-empt Sandringham’s next anticipated attack by emphasizing their powerful friends.

Beat 10: A Woman Scorned. The two Highlanders take their leave after a few moments of tense silence during which the smile has faded from the Duke’s face. Perhaps he dreads being alone with Mrs. Fraser? Jamie forces a smile and bows slightly as he departs with a glance at Claire.

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Oh, crap. The pleasant spouse is leaving.

Head lowered, eyes following Claire, Sandringham’s stare never leaves her as she turns her back, ostensibly to watch her husband leave, and then slowly moves to face the fireplace, not speaking.

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You won’t catch me napping.

Almost 20 seconds of silence pass after Claire sends Jamie and Murtagh away.

Beat 11: The First Mask Falls. The first to speak, Sandringham’s next line arrives in a lower, more ominous tone:

“I see you’re already cultivating important people in high places. How very in keeping with your character.” His remarks and the fact that he speaks first assure us the Duke does not fear her. She says nothing, brooding in the firelight. His accusation betrays his hypocrisy.

Beat 12: A Thinner Mask Applies. Has personal insult not sufficed? Approaching her side, Sandringham pokes Claire again: “Poor Jamie. He must be missing Scotland terribly, but I suppose it’s no longer a safe haven for either of you.” Another broad grin accompanies the last line’s inflection and matching look up at her.

Beat 13: She Speaks. She does not look at him but has fully felt the jab. “Hmph,” and she smiles, entering the game. “Yes, and so here we all are.” She raises her gaze to the mantel and above.

Beat 14: She Aims. A new thought then seems to occur to her as she finally looks at the Duke: “On the same side, no less. All supporters of the Jacobite cause.” The tone in the second line is questioning, but Claire remains fairly certain of Sandringham’s allegiance.

The camera shifts to the Duke’s face, which betrays nothing either way.

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Ah, the question of sides . . .

Beat 15: She Lunges. Claire then turns fully to face him and deliver her best possible thrust: “Of course, you being an English aristocrat, that position makes you a traitor to the crown.” Again, a questioning inflection, but more out of provocation as she stares down into his face from her superior height.

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J’accuse!

Beat 16: The Veil Drops, Another Remains. “I see time has done nothing to dull the sharpness of your tongue, Madame.” Unprovoked, the Duke has chosen to down-shift into a personal response to the trivia of Claire’s impoliteness. He has not answered her accusation, just as she did not answer his earlier one. His secrets remain safely his.

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At least her tongue isn’t forked, Sandy!

Claire slowly smiles in feigned politeness, a smirk the Duke returns. Five seconds tick away as they hold each other’s gaze, neither daring to flinch.

Beat 17: Distraction. Alex then enters, gaining the Duke’s attention, announces the impending fireworks, and proceeds to cough, breaking the spell.

“If you must cough on someone, find a servant.”

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Don’t cough on me, dammit!

Reconsidering his scornful snap, the Duke glances at Claire and asks, “Was that a bit harsh?” Pettiness and irritation at a servant echo His Grace’s behavior during his first meeting with Claire in episode 109, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs.” It almost seems like a coping mechanism, his way of deflecting Claire’s unfamiliar female aggression, taking his discomfort out on a bystander.

She replies, “Oh, just a little,” and turns her attention to her healing function.

Beat 18: Reprieve: A Pleasant Exchange. Alex and Claire discuss the cough and Mary Hawkins, to whom he had been speaking earlier, while Sandringham listens in silence.

Beat 19: Return to the Game. Then, no doubt sensing a chance to continue the verbal duel, he perks up: “Where are my manners? Mrs. Claire Fraser, may I introduce my new secretary, Alexander Randall.”

Beat 20: Messenger of Menace.Yes, the name is not a coincidence. Alex is the younger brother of Captain Jonathan Randall, Esquire.”

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Another Randall? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Is anyone not related to Frank?

To Alex he adds in a more subdued volume and pitch what seems like a casual afterthought, but to Claire, it’s another jab: “Mrs. Fraser and your brother are very well acquainted.” Well acquainted but not acquainted well, which Sandringham knows very well. His satisfaction in this otherwise trivial note is palpable.

Beat 21: Unwitting Accomplice. Alex, oblivious to all that has been happening, innocently says he’ll tell “Jonathan” that he has met Mrs. Fraser. My first reaction, as a book fan, was, “Oh, no, no! Don’t tell him!” forgetting that the show prior to this moment had yet to reveal Randall’s still being alive. The idea of addressing a dead man puzzles Claire.

Beat 22: Utter Confusion, in Micro-Beats. “Tell him? I don’t understand.” With pauses between her sentences, she looks from man to man, searching for the clarity they can only guess at. “Your brother, he isn’t . . . dead?”

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What, is this kid crazy?

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The Duke waits patiently for light to dawn

Beat 23: Final Blow: A Virtual Stomach Punch. Alex scoffs and explains he’s heard from his brother by post quite recently. In shock, Claire visibly weakens at the knees, as if Alex were again delivering to her mid-section the fist she received there from Black Jack in episode 106, “The Garrison Commander.”

The Duke and Alex both step forward instinctively in response to a damsel’s distress. Sandringham asks, “Can I be of assistance?” but Claire, clearly shaken, professes to be fine. The Duke slowly and slightly smiles as he backs off. The wrinkle? What must Alex be thinking? How confusing must it be to see someone react so negatively to hearing his brother is alive!

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The Deepest Cut

Beat 24: Reeling in Recovery. Claire recovers her self-possession, declines assistance, and says she must have been mistaken.

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I don’t believe this. I don’t believe it. I don’t.

Beat 25: Revelation and Mockery. Alex concedes Randall was wounded. Then, the camera shifts to Sandringham as Alex mentions the wounds being “not insignificant.” The man is nodding sloppily in glee, a moment of relish for him–now a delighted spectator of Claire’s suffering–and a moment of audience appreciation for Callow’s devilish though humorous head jiggle. It was the first moment when I really started loving to hate the Duke. Alex concludes by remarking on Jonathan’s “stronger constitution than my own” and proceeds to cough again.

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I’ll just let trusty little Al finish you off, maybe join the lads for a wee nip.

Beat 26: Height of Festivity Meets Pit of Anguish. The fireworks quickly take over with a first boom, at which Claire startles. In the ultimate irony of the scene, the men turn to the show while Claire is left to cope with a vastly changed reality. The implications are profound and stand to jeopardize everything, as Claire’s voiceover explains at the end.

“Oh! How lovely!” Sandringham says with a chuckle.

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Why can’t the bastard just die already?

Beat 27: Victorious Withdrawal, Gloating. After a pause, the Duke asks Alex between gritting teeth, “But must they be so thunderous?” Clearly bored already, he says to Alex, “Go and fetch my carriage.”

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Aw, yeah. Boom! Touche, Lady Biotch Tuarach.

After Alex leaves, a swagger, a gradual turn back to see Claire’s face, and the Duke of Sandringham backs toward the doorway with a smug smile, knowing he’s won this round, and a groaning, mouth-wide half laugh as he turns away to exit. Viewer hatred of the Duke resurges. This is that “what an asshole” moment.

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Hee, hee. Yeah, that’s gotta hurt. . .

Sandringham’s dueling opponent is wounded and down, inert and weapon-less. In a stroke of good fortune, his superior knowledge and, thus, readiness have given him the upper hand and assured satisfaction. The Duke exits.

Beat 28: Oh, God. What Now? The scene and episode end with Claire processing the horrible news via voiced-over thoughts and questions, with ominous strings rising. Telling Jamie that Black Jack is alive means risking their efforts to stop the Jacobite rebellion if Jamie insists on revenge. The blue lights of the fireworks flash against the indoor walls and crowd of the French Court, mimicking a thunderstorm.

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Good, he’s gone. I can panic in peace. . .

The camera follows Claire’s worried search to where Jamie and Murtagh chat with Duverney, the Minister of Finance. The fear and uncertainty of what will happen next envelop her.

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. . . cuz here comes my husband, the Viking berserker.

Then, the camera shifts to the outdoor explosions through the windows as the music surges, contrasting luxurious entertainment and Baroque splendor with Claire’s high anxiety and despair, that the Frasers’ Captain Randall nightmare is in fact as alive as he is.


Summary

The expansion of the Duke of Sandringham character’s role in the story from the book version allows Simon Callow this spotlight. Although events transpire differently in the book, the show’s Sandringham experiences the thrill of being the one to help deliver this nasty surprise to Claire.

All of this happens in seven on-screen minutes, and the scene does not feel rushed at all. Nor does it drag, for all the extended silences, stretched syllables, and wordless daggers.

The layers are what make this possible–the indirect allusions, veiled and overt threats, hidden agendas, ironic intentions, secret knowledge, emotional baggage, Sandringham’s two-faced persona, and a complicated lead-up story.

Exposing the layers and what lies beneath them enables the viewer to experience the scene anew, watch it again with added richness, and continue to follow the story with greater edification, entertainment, and intrigue.

Central to this wonderful impact is Simon Callow’s keen invigoration of the material.

Great Elements of Callow’s Craft: Constructing Sandringham

Delivery:

  • Deep voice, gaspy bellowing, snide snapping
  • Slow, drawn-out phrases that make him sound out of breath but mainly old and demanding of patience, especially as he wheedles and whines for absolution
  • Rise and fall of pitch and timbre, a meandering vocalization the highs and lows of which he is able to travel with ease and nonchalance, like a snake slithering
  • Body movement, gesture, posture, tilt, bounce, smile, hand flap, eyebrow action–all inform the flighty persona belying darker motives.

Writing Made Flesh:

  • Long on compliments and flattery, short on sincerity but unapologetic for pettiness born of privilege and its indulgence, he assuages, persuades, puts out fires, stokes them too, and grins and bears it all with grace.
  • Fickle and flippant on the surface but methodical and discerning beneath, he is a flamboyant, self-assured puppeteer who enjoys the game of manipulation.
  • He’s such a presence and a multi-faceted character, he makes you forget he’s gay, a skill which is part and parcel of the character’s wiles.
  • By turns playful and grave, the Duke of Callow’s creation communicates that both states are only ever a mask hiding a more complex inner truth.

As the malevolent jester mastermind, Sandringham mimics Twelfth Night‘s Feste without the truthfulness, or true benevolence. A grand chess master masquerading as a colorful fool, the Duke’s power lies in the convergence of his noble status, self-possession, shrewd calculus, and mercurial behavior. Callow has added distinctive dimensions to the character that are sheer joy to watch.

A Final Note: Shooting of the Scene

Along with Simon Callow’s presence and performance as the Duke of Sandringham, the success of the Outlander series comes down to consistent leadership and dedication that ensure all the right elements fall into place in scenes like this last one of “Not in Scotland Anymore.” The world building alone has been impressive in season one and season two.

The microcosm of ep202’s final scene echoes and augments the larger-scale excellence. Storytelling and screen techniques combine to create a space and context befitting such forces of nature as we find in actors Simon Callow and Caitriona Balfe. The sparks of verbal dueling fly, and the actors utterly fill that space. Here are some (literal and figurative) highlights of those key motifs of scene.

Lighting plays a massive role in this scene’s juxtapositions and ironic effects. Flickering light in two basic forms provides the bulk of the scene’s visual symbolism as both allusion and foreshadowing. The yellow fireplace light dapples up and across the characters’ grim faces, recalling the dungeon lantern at Wentworth that burned the petition of complaint.

Later, the blue flashes of fireworks suggest a lightning storm, an adapted trope of the horror and mystery genres, portending the personal and political conflicts to come. Overall, the wavering light and partnering shadows convey the instability and changing visibility of characters’ circumstances and footing. Danger and fear dominate the emotional landscape.

Fire, both literal and figurative, shares lighting’s importance in the scene’s multiple meanings. The hearth and fireworks displays mirror the heat in these characters’ lives—past, present, and future. Burning anger (Claire, Murtagh), documents (Petition of Complaint), tongues (Claire, Murtagh), lungs (Alex), and a past of burned-out body and soul (Jamie) all clash with the Duke’s arrogant coolness.

Sandringham’s appearance lights the fuse that burns for nearly seven minutes until the literal, external explosions of the festivities and the figurative, internal explosion of Claire’s sense of security. All the bottled anger and restraint leading up to that moment find release not in revenge against the Duke for his treachery but in Claire’s loss of composure and vanquished silence.

The uses of light and fire all culminate in the threat of destruction to our protagonists, and the last shot focusing on the fireworks drives the point home as the music rises in ironic Baroque playfulness.

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One could go so far as to say that the light, the fireworks, and the music all belong to the triumphant villains of the scene—the wily chameleon in the Duke of Sandringham and the specter of a living devil, Captain Jonathan Wolverton “Black Jack” Randall. They emerge untouchable, the Duke with the psychological victory over Claire Fraser and the captain with his affirmed existence yet absence from the scene.

The resulting cliffhanger suspense at the terminus of such a complex, neatly packed, visually delicious, and dramatic episode brings the viewer back for more without hesitation.

Photo credits: All images by STARZ and Sony Pictures Television, accessed at Outlander-Online.


For my full review of episodes 201 and 202, including commentary on other individual performances, visit “Outlander STARZ, Season 2 Review: Episodes 201 and 202.”

Only one of countless examples of TV storytelling the show aces, the final scene of ep202 foreshadows several events in the series. I hope the show continues to follow Sandringham’s pivotal role in the book’s plot, giving Simon Callow yet more air time.

Tune in to Starz at 9pm ET on Saturdays to find out. This week the Highlanders reunite and prepare for battle. You can also watch Outlander on demand online via Starz Play. As a stand-out episode, I highly recommend ep207, “Faith,” which first aired two weeks ago and presents a dramatic turning point in the season, featuring mind-blowing work by Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser.

And there’s so much more to come. This week, World Outlander Day (June 1), the 25th anniversary of the first book’s publication, brought us the gift of the official announcement that not one but two more seasons–3 and 4–will go forward. Hooray!

Long live Outlander. “Je suis pret.”

Five-Phrase Friday (37): No “Callow” Craft

After a two-week hiatus from Friday phrases, I’ve decided to round off the series at 40. It’s time to move on to new ventures with my blog.

I’m using this post to set up my next in-depth review of Outlander STARZ season two, which will zoom in on British actor Simon Callow’s masterful development and portrayal of the Duke of Sandringham, especially in episode 202. (See Simon Callow’s performance credits here.) I first forecast this closer look–it’s coming, I swear!–in my review of episodes 201 and 202.

The quality of Simon Callow’s work greatly dwarfs (nod to his joke in ep204) his place in the credits list and the amount of time his performances air. Along with his writers, he deserves more attention.

Observing the nuances re-shaping the character from the book Dragonfly in Amber to its TV show adaptation via season two (and from the novel Outlander to season one, for that matter), I’ve chosen five phrases among the many I feel define the Duke of Sandringham as played by Callow. I’ll discuss their meaning and that engrossing ep202 final scene in the full review.

1. Untouchable serpentine “gentleman” (wily with impunity)

2. Hypocritical, dissembling opportunist (he accuses Claire of this motive)

3. Stab-and-twist provocateur (Voo-doo practitioner?)

4. Charming, witty, self-serving chameleon (i.e., the Devil incarnate)

5. Malevolent jester mastermind (like the “fool” Feste in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, sans truthfulness . . . and benevolence)

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Simon Callow with Caitriona Balfe (Claire Fraser). Ep202, “Not in Scotland Anymore,” Gif clip credit: Outlander STARZ, Sony Pictures Television.

Far from being pure insults, these descriptors praise Callow’s crafting of a juicy, layered (onion) villain to rival Tobias Menzies’ Black Jack Randall. And if the show stays true to the book for the Sandringham character arc–and I do hope it does–there is more pungent peeling to come.

“If that’s an apology, and I do hope it is, I accept with all good grace.”

Yes. Yes, Your Grace, it will be quite the apology. You’ll see I have become an unapologetic Callow-Sandringham apologist.

Stay tuned.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, America. Episode 208 airs tomorrow at 9pm on STARZ.

Outlander STARZ: Season 2 Review, Eps 201 and 202

Highlights of Episodes 201 and 202

Spoilers imminent (but we’re mid-season, so it’s time to catch up anyway)

Sparkling Overall Performances:

  1. Caitriona Balfe as Claire
  2. Tobias Menzies as Frank
  3. Duncan LaCroix as Murtagh
  4. Andrew Gower as Bonnie Prince Charlie–quite the caricature
  5. (as always) Simon Callow as the Duke of Sandringham

Sparkling Moments of Performance:

  1. Sam Heughan as Jamie battling the Black Jack Randall demon in ep202
  2. Lionel Lingelser as Louis XV in ep202–so funny!

Delightful New Characters:

  1. Jared Fraser, Jamie’s cousin and a wine merchant, resident of Paris
  2. Prince Charles Stuart, presumptive heir to the British throne
  3. Louise de Rohan, Claire’s new friend and a marquess
  4. Mary Hawkins, Louise’s charge and teenager engaged to Le Vicomte Marigny
  5. Fergus, a young French pickpocket at first named Claudel, whom Jamie employs to steal letters to and from Prince Charles
  6. Suzette, Claire’s lady’s maid, an expanded role thanks to Murtagh’s expanded . . . ahem, role
  7. Bouton!, border terrier and diagnostic partner of Mother Hildegarde at l’Hopital des Anges
  8. and, of course, Mother Hildegarde herself

The Look:

Production Design, Set Decoration, and Costume Design all demonstrate their usual attention to beauty, detail, and symbolism, with the vibrant results to leave you oo-ing and ah-ing at the sumptuous subjects of Parisian architecture, interior design, and dress.

Costumes Highlight – Every time Balfe appears in a new costume, the eyes feast and many of us drool, a hazard that men of the 18th century must often have encountered with all those low-cut, corseted busts. While show costume design and decoration seem to represent history well overall, the 1700s costumes in particular purposely blend mid-20th century styles into the look of Claire’s wardrobe in subtle but noticeable ways. One of these is a Dior sample Terry Dresbach used for Claire’s silver-jacketed dress with neat black hat in episode 202. See Terry’s website for details.

Jamie also cleans up nicely in his own velvets, satins, and crisp white jabots, along with that clean-shaven square jaw and dimpled chin framing the piercing blue eyes Heughan sports so expertly. And of course, there’s the flowing, curly red hair. * enamored sigh *

Other Notable Elements:

Cinematography: ep201 multi-scene and ep202 Versailles

Film editing: ep201, mainly

Plot outlining and writing — overall, very good with very few flat or off moments

Book fan pleasures: Continued close following of enjoyable original dialogue and narration

Highlights of Great Scenes 

Numerous scenes in ep201 and ep202 conveyed emotional depth and effective drama in acting and dialogue. For a sample, the following illustrates my experience of ep201’s . . .

. . . Tears (70%) and Laughter (30%): Moment by Moment.

Episode 201

Cries in Ep201 from the opening moments to 45 minutes in (all of 1948)–that is, moments when tears actually fell from my eyes:

Although the opening scene is gut-wrenching, I was too intent on paying attention and too bewildered and horrified by Claire’s screaming for crying to be an option.

Cry #1 – Claire kneeling and sobbing in the road after coming back to the 1940s and hearing from the passerby that the British had won the Battle of Culloden. Whoa.

Cry #2 – Mrs. Graham reaches and grabs Claire’s hands, the strings rise, and she tells Claire to cherish her experience. It just grabbed me so tightly in the chest like.

Cries #3 and #4 – Frank crying and then pleading with Claire to let them be reunited as husband and wife as he professes his love (violins rising). Poor Frank . . .

Cry #5 – Claire’s reaction to Frank’s condition that she conduct “no more research” into her dead husband Jamie. Not only must she mourn his loss, but now she must not “re-member” either. And yet, a reasonable request, really.

Cry #6 – “I will” let him go, she says. “I accept your conditions.” *Heart tears open.*

Cry #7 – When Claire tries to take off her 1740s wedding ring but cannot. It’s a wonder she doesn’t collapse to the floor again right there.

Cry #8 – Putting away love, into her suitcase, in the form of the other ring she brought back with her that is missing its jewel. So much adjusting, so soon, so sad.

Cry #9 – When Claire sees Frank burning the 18th-century Scottish apparel she wore back through the stones (music rising — volume and pitch). All traces being erased.

Cry #10 / Final heartbreak, and this one may surprise some viewers – The visual transition from Claire taking Frank’s hand as she de-boards the plan in New York to Claire taking Jamie’s hand as she disembarks from the Cristabel in Le Havre, France. (Claire and Jamie musical theme surges.) Some saw this as a moment of triumph, but it is at least bitter-sweet, and I found it somewhat hollow after the absolute gutting perpetrated by the first 45 minutes.

Laughs in Ep201 — from the transition point forward, all in the 1700s setting:

See my list at Five-Phrase Friday (36): Comic Relief in Outlander STARZ ep201.

The effect of this chosen sequence and emphasis on the 1940s is to propel the audience into a season in which we’re desperate to cling to every positive moment possible between our beloved heroes Claire and Jamie. Although the selections above suggest a tolerable contrast of 70/30 between heartbreak and joy, the experience of it is more like 80/20, or even 85/15.

The darkness and deep sorrow of knowing from the beginning that the Frasers ultimately lose each other at the end of the season invests the viewer more keenly in their 1740s togetherness, and particularly in their luxury and high status, if not quite revelry, as stewards of Cousin Jared’s house and business in Paris while Jared expands his endeavors overseas.

Simultaneously, the heavy weight of the first 45 minutes of Episode 201 brings the audience so low that we’re more than ready for the sex, laughter, diversion, and above all, levity (i.e., frivolity, materialism, beauty, and style) with which Paris is replete.

The hope portrayed in the landing at Le Havre soon gives way, however, to the dark cloud that has followed Jamie and Claire from Scotland into the City of Lights. This shadow hovers ominously as they plunge headlong into political intrigue, double dealing, wariness of whom to trust, and danger amidst new enemies. Their overarching anxiety primarily takes the form of the dual and competing (indeed, conflicting) pressures and strains of Jamie’s recent traumatic past in the hands of Black Jack Randall and of the impending birth of the couple’s first child.

Any normal human being would crack under the weight of it all. Thank goodness this is fiction, and Jamie and Claire are (as Jamie describes Claire to Jared) “sturdy” people.

Good Surprises and Divergences from the Book:

A bold move it was indeed to start season two in the 1940s since the non-book-oriented audience expects to see Jamie and Claire arriving in France after last season’s finale. Bolder still, and risky to some degree, to linger there for so long with the pain and sorrow between Claire and Frank before transitioning back to the past.

Readers of book two, Dragonfly in Amber, may recall that the book also opens in the twentieth century, but 20 years later, when we meet grown-up Brianna and grown-up Roger Wakefield, the Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son. It will be fascinating to see how that time leap element is treated later this season–or next.

Murtagh’s expanded role from book to show honors Duncan LaCroix with well-deserved opportunities to shine.

Episode 202

From start to finish, ep202 is an eye-popping firecracker, ending in literal fireworks. The opening scene of Jamie’s nightmare is disturbing and shocking, particularly when his sure-fire murderous stab-a-thon ends with BJR’s eyes opening, still alive.

The sexual indulgences of the second episode are largely humorous in nature, at times fascinating and at others disturbing, but always of that entertaining levity to counterbalance the nightmares and anxieties that linger.

The ridiculousness of King Louis’ “dressing” comes off splendidly. Lionel Lingelser commands the room whether through melodramatic constipation or royal diffidence and lurid looks. His sizing up of Claire will prove relevant mid-season.

In keeping with a slightly more daringly sexual Claire the show and Balfe have formulated, a nonetheless pregnant Sassenach matches the French women’s sensuality step for step. Between the “third-rib” V-neck red dress she “helped design” that stirs up trouble at Versailles and the more private “honeypot” scandal, Claire’s bold efforts to mesh with Parisian high society prove a shock to Jamie’s more traditional, 18th-century sensibilities.

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Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) in THE red dress with new friend Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne), at Versailles. Image credit: STARZ and Sony Pictures/ Left Bank/ Tall Ships

Speaking of shocks and meeting one’s match . . . .

A Grand, uh, Climax:

Toward the end of ep202, the Frasers’ confrontation with the Duke of Sandringham at Versailles presents great suspense and layered implications, thanks mainly to the writing and to Simon Callow’s stunning performance. The exchange between the Duke and Claire after Jamie and Murtagh walk away is so good, subtle, and biting that it deserves a closer look, which I provide in the next post in this series. I didn’t catch several of the layers until I viewed it a second time myself, so stay tuned!

See also Five-Phrase Friday (37) on Simon Callow’s characterization of Sandringham.

A compressed plot, especially in ep202, with overlapping events that are more spread out in the book, works very well. Pacing is on track in the first two episodes, along with the undulation of moods. Overall, the progression of scenes does not feel rushed, and it very easily could have. Kudos to the writers and producers for their care and creativity.

Aspects Somewhat Less Than Stellar

While not quite a detractor, I have been less than impressed with Dominique Pinon’s performance as the apothecary Master Raymond. It may in part be the difficulty I had in understanding his French accent when he speaks English. Perhaps it’s the nature of the role as well, and the fact that I’ve seen Pinon dig into meatier ones, namely, as a jealous womanizer in the quirky, surrealist French film Amelie, starring Audrey Tautou.

Le Comte St. Germain, played by Stanley Weber, provides juicy menace, but by the end of ep202, Weber hasn’t had a chance to shine much yet. It’s been mostly slow striding with his scepter, quiet brooding, and hungry, if subtle, murderous looks of “I will get you” toward Claire and Jamie.

A Lowlight of Episodes 201 and 202

The other time problem, which I wrote about concerning last season, this season turns out to be a mere typographical error in ep201 captioning: “Le Havre, 1745” should have read “Le Havre, 1744.” The effect of this sloppiness? Initial confusion and distress give way to disappointment at its cheapening of the series.

However, it was not until ep203 that I found more to critique, though there is still plenty to praise.


Come back next time for more thoughts on subsequent episodes in season two of Outlander STARZ.